In 2006, the release of a single piece of music changed the genre of hip hop forever. It wasn’t off of Clipse’s masterpiece “Hell Hath No Fury” or legendary producer J. Dilla’s “Donuts”, his magnum opus created in his dying months. It was the one-off hit “Vans,” released by Bay Area rap group The Pack. The song itself wasn’t anything exceptional composition-wise, but its earth-shattering importance came from being the first time listeners were graced with the voice of the man who would later become “The BasedGod.”
Brandon McCartney grew up in Berkeley, Calif. and began rapping under the name Lil B with The Pack when he was 16 years old. After “Vans” blew up, the pack enjoyed its success for a while before fading into relative obscurity, with the exception of Lil B. With a work ethic rivaling even Lil Wayne’s famous output during his Dedikation mixtape glory days, Lil B recorded a staggering 1,500 songs in the next four years and uploaded them to more than 150 MySpace pages he created. During this time, his popularity soared and he adopted the moniker The BasedGod, cultivating a massive and loyal social media following.
To the average listener, a song by Lil B The BasedGod might sound unintelligently written, sloppily delivered and generally confusing and disorienting. With lyrics such as “eat that wonton soup I got the cash like chang chang chang” and mixtapes provocatively titled “God’s Father” and “I’m Gay (I’m Happy),” people started accusing him of building a career based on one big satirical joke criticizing the genre. But if one examines The BasedGod’s presence on platforms like Facebook and Twitter and his rabid followers in the #Taskforce, there’s a sense of deep sincerity and positivity in his fans’ support. And this is what makes the music, and the movement it started, a little more than just satire.
Lil B’s unprecedented persona and style inspired and paved the way for dozens of new rappers who, in a pre-BasedGod hip hop world, would never have been accepted or respected. One of the most intriguing rappers is Yung Lean, a teenaged rapper making moves out of Stockholm, Sweden. His music consists of him rapping in droning, broken English about snorting cocaine in Death Stars and crying Arizona Iced Tea tears to a background of cloud rap beats produced by his surprisingly talented associate, Yung Gud.
His fans call themselves the Sadboys and revel in his captivating, emotional weirdness. His unique aesthetic got Yung Lean signed to prolific streetwear brand Mishka’s fledgeling record label, whose roster also includes one of the most talented up-and-comers in hip hop today, Spark Master Tape.
One of the more offbeat and sometimes vulgar artists to result from this movement is 3PAC, a satirical rapper who also started his career locally in the south Bay Area. His catalog includes titles like “Swag Like Osama” and “Swaggin’ Like Romney (Rich White Man Sh*t),” which give listeners a good idea of what they’re in for right off the bat. His lyrics are peppered with racial slurs and an outrageous political incorrectness that would normally cause uproar and backlash immediately. But none of it matters because, as he frequently professes, 3PAC simply doesn’t give a hoot. And neither do the Zero Hoots Gang, his fanbase numbering more than 5,000 on Facebook alone. 3PAC keeps his fans updated daily on matters such as why he’s superior to figures like 2Pac and Oprah and how he “gets the bread, son.” His followers agree passionately and encourage him in the comments.
“My fans at Paly understand that giving a hoot is the root of all evil son,” 3PAC said, acknowledging his local fans in addition to the worldwide Internet movement he’s created.
All of these artists’ works culminate into a rapidly growing subculture of hip hop full of eccentric artists backed by die-hard fan bases that consider it more than just a big joke. Lil B’s Twitter and Facebook feed is a constant stream of positivity and love for his fans and the world around him, which is passionately reciprocated by his followers in their replies and retweets. His concerts consist of him performing slapping tracks such as “I Own Swag” followed by his lecturing a rapt audience on the merits of adopting pets and appreciating their local police forces. Grown men cry real tears when he performs his most tender song, “I Love You.”
Some of Yung Lean’s unironic fans confess a deep emotional connection to his music and can relate to the sentiments he expresses. Members of the Zero Hoots Gang patrol Facebook calling out anyone who dares to give a hoot against 3PAC.
The sincerity in all these gestures makes it hard not to love and appreciate the work these artists do, if only for fear of being lynched by their supporters for speaking out against them. And in a genre that for more than 30 years consisted almost entirely of deadly serious topics such as gang conflict, murder and racism, a little humor is refreshing, and some may argue, completely necessary to the rap game.